Physicians and lawyers both receive several years of post-graduate education to learn and practice their respective crafts. Unlike the practice of medicine in which physicians are certified to practice in specialized medical fields, the practice of law (with one or two exceptions) has no such certifications. An attorney who is licensed to practice law can style himself or herself as a med mal lawyer and can represent any parties who desire to retain him or her to file and pursue a medical malpractice claim.
What is a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?
Attorneys who elect to ply their trade in the medical malpractice arena, however, will concentrate their entire practices in that arena because malpractice claims increasingly require the attorney to develop skills and knowledge that are unique and applicable to his or her practice as a medical malpractice lawyer. Drilling down even further, a sub-group of malpractice lawyers may develop additional skills as medical malpractice trial lawyers.
Lawyer or Trial Lawyer: A Historical Perspective
Persons in the U.S. who have suffered injuries as a result of medical malpractice will generally consult with either a general medical malpractice lawyer, or a malpractice trial lawyer. If a conclusion in that consultation is that the injured party’s case will go to trial, he or she will be best served by retaining the services of a medical malpractice trial lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer who has not developed trial skills will still be able to counsel an injured party on how best to proceed with a medical malpractice lawsuit, but a trial lawyer will generally have developed the skills to present a medical malpractice case to a jury in a succinct but detailed manner while holding off an opposing party’s attempts to derail that presentation.
To date, medical malpractice attorneys, or med mal lawyers, handle a number of cases related to claims involving medical negligence, or errors or doctor mistakes causing harm or damages to a patient in a manner that deviates from the normative standard of care in a similar situation. These cases can range from wrong diagnosis to surgical errors to omissions and failure to provide informed consent in patient care agreements.
The Medical Malpractice Specialty
Although no special certification is required to practice as a medical malpractice lawyer, the majority of attorneys who advertise themselves as medical malpractice lawyers will belong to specialized trade groups, including the National Trial Lawyers’ Medical Malpractice Trial Lawyers Association, or a subgroup within the American or a state bar association that focuses on issues that are relevant to medical malpractice lawyers. These trade associations and groups provide educational opportunities for attorneys to maintain and improve their knowledge of issues that are pertinent to their chosen practice concentration.
Plaintiff’s or Defendant’s Lawyer?
A party who has suffered a medical malpractice injury will need to retain a medical malpractice lawyer who routinely represents the plaintiff’s side of a malpractice case. Physicians who are named as defendants in malpractice cases will either retain their own counsel or their insurance carriers will designate counsel for them. It is unusual for medical malpractice lawyers to represent plaintiffs and defendants in medical malpractice cases. The techniques, knowledge and skills required to represent physicians who are defendants in medical malpractice cases differ from those required to represent plaintiffs and few attorneys have developed both skill sets.
While a party who seeks to retain a medical malpractice lawyer is likely facing several challenges as a result of the injury that flowed from the malpractice in the first place, the process of selecting and retaining that lawyer will be somewhat simpler if he or she take a moment to consider the nature and extent of a lawyers’ chosen specialty as it may apply to their individual case.